There’s something old people like to say about the only certainties in life being death and taxes, but come on, let’s be real. No one actually pays their taxes. If the president doesn’t have to, why should anyone else? It’s startlingly easy to just funnel your money through 3rd party platforms as “gifts” and keep it hidden away online and out of the long reach of the federal government. Obviously, I’m not the kind of person who uses an elaborate series of fake PayPal accounts made before real identity verification was required to stay under the 15,000 dollar gift limit set by the IRS. I would never do something like that. Believe it or not, though, this article is NOT about how to avoid paying taxes to a government who will use them to stick more non-violent drug offenders into prisons/labor camps. This article is about the only true and final requirement of life. The certainly of Death.
Death’s the great equalizer, sure. All things that were ever alive will be dead at some point, and it’s pretty much the only common thread you can tie through the very fabric of life. Plants, animals, you, our families and friends, me, that annoying guy in your World of Warcraft guild – all of us will die. Hell, sometimes even things that aren’t technically alive can be called dead. The environment comes to mind first. A great river dries up, a mountain crumbles after an earthquake. Dying is a prerequisite to being alive.
There’s something I’ve always really enjoyed about this time of year (which is mid-September, in case you’re too lazy/stupid to scroll up to check the publishing date) because of it’s symbolic ties to death and change. I really don’t think there’s any way I can break down the whole summer into fall into winter transition thing from any angle that doesn’t come across as both patronizing AND pretentious, so I’ll just trust my judgement that people who read this article can either use the commonly accepted seasonal symbolism or just come up with someone neat on their own. I digress.
When I was a kid my elementary school had a fall craft fair every year. I think it was meant to be some kind of ploy to get us to be a bit more excited about being back in school, but I honestly didn’t know any kids who didn’t enjoy school in third grade. Maybe all of my friends were nerds, or maybe kids just liked school more back then. Maybe that was before we all started living in some kind of society. Anyway, I guess the craft fairs worked because I was always really into them when I was eight or nine or whatever. It was a weekend thing where all the local elementary schools would pool their resources (probably due to under funding, probably due to lack of efficient tax funds) and set up all kinds of booths with food and games and activities that involved Popsicle sticks and glue 95% of the time. The whole thing was very Great Lakes Midwestern.
I remember that one year in between my third go-around at the cake walk (yeah, we had a literal cake walk. I’m not sure if that’s a thing in other places. It might be like how only people in Chicago and Cincinnati call non-dress shoes “gym shoes”.) and making another picture of a turkey by tracing my hand on a sheet of offensively yellow construction paper, I ended up at this booth where you had to throw balls into increasingly far away buckets, and if you won, you got to take home a pet goldfish. Of course, there are probably a hundred reasons why this an emotionally manipulative thing to do to parents and why it’s a downright cruel thing to do to the fish, but a 3rd grader isn’t thinking about that. A third grader is thinking about taking home a goldfish from a crafts fair.
To make a boring story short, I won the fish, and was handed one of those entirely too small plastic bags they keep these living animals in. Because my mom wasn’t an idiot, she looked up how to properly take care of a fish like this, even though most fish you end up with that come to in that condition barely live a week. It’s really fucked up on so many levels. I think what confuses me the most is why you’d add a layer of psychological distress to the animal abuse by giving children something that, more often than not, will die quickly. I think maybe that it was a way for you to teach kids about death that didn’t involve an elderly relative passing away. I’m not a parent, and I never will be, but I could imagine that on some level it’s much easier to tell a crying 9 year old they’ll never see their goldfish again than it is to say the same about their grandma.
My mom was determined for that not to happen to me, and I’ll probably never know if there was a motive behind that beyond basic human decency. We got Smokey (named for his black color) a proper tank, and filter, and talked to the pet store about what to feed him, and gave him the exact environment any craft fair goldfish could ever need. He ended up living for two years, almost to the point where we regarded him the same way most people regard dogs. When he finally died one summer, the whole family actually mourned him.
It made me think about how all those years ago, back in elementary school, we learnt that the native Americans used to bury dead fish with their crops to help them grow better. I took Smokey’s body out into our garden with a handful of corn seeds and planted them together. I’m not sure if what we got taught about native Americans in suburban elementary school was just some pro-Thanksgiving propaganda or an actual practice, but I do know those corn seeds grew in really well, and that we harvested the stalks and roasted up that corn to eat at Thanksgiving later that fall. I think maybe that’s a much better lesson about death.